System Breaks and Positive Feedback as Sources of Catastrophe

  • Kenneth E. Boulding


In the course of a friendship with Anatol Rapoport that has now lasted over thirty years, I have learned a great many things from him, more, indeed, than I could possibly acknowledge. One remark of his stands out vividly in my memory, in which he said in effect that the most careful empirical study of the path of falling leaves would never have revealed to us the law of gravity, even though this is certainly one of the principles that underlies and helps to explain their behavior. This was a dramatic illustration of the epistemological difficulties that we run into when we study complex systems. The human race, in its endless pursuit of knowledge, has run into a curious paradox. What we are most immediately aware of is ourselves through consciousness and the ability to penetrate the consciousness of other human beings through language and other forms of communication.


Positive Feedback Human Learning Human Race System Break Khmer Rouge 
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  1. Miller, J.G. (1978). Living Systems. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Physica-Verlag Heidelberg Wien 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth E. Boulding
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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